In the Spotlight: Marilyn Allen, Agent with the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency

How does a writer find the right agent for his or her book project? What’s the difference between a query and a pitch? This month, literary agent Marilyn Allen demystifies the what, where and how of author representation.

A partner at the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency in Connecticut, Ms. Allen is an advocate for innovation in the marketing and selling of books. In her 25-year tenure at publishing houses, she directed sales and marketing teams for Penguin Books, Simon & Schuster, and Avon Books before becoming Associate Publisher and Senior Vice President of Marketing for Harper Collins.

The Allen O’Shea Literary Agency is an author-centered boutique agency that works closely with its clients throughout the publication process from developing proposals and manuscript materials to creating marketing and publicity campaigns.

With so many agents working in the industry, what suggestions do you have to help writers to find the right agent for their project and their career?

They should ask other writers for suggestions. Reference books like Literary Marketplace and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents are a great way to find those working in their fields. (Literary Marketplace can be found at most public libraries or online at Writers’ conferences can also be a wonderful place to find and interview agents.

How many of the authors you represent are referred by other writers or colleagues in the industry? Contacts made at conferences? The result of a query letter without a referral?

About 85% of the authors I represent are referred by other writers and colleagues; I meet about 10% at conferences. Only 5% are the result of a query letter without a referral.

Many conferences offer writers the opportunity to pitch a book concept to agents face to face. What are the elements of a successful pitch?

A successful pitch includes the ability to provide a great keynote for the project and quick highlights of a smart marketing campaign, a competitive analysis and potential audience. Pitch with passion and then LISTEN to the agent.

Is the information in a pitch different from that of a query letter?

I think they are basically the same.

What is an average response time after sending a proposal that an agent has requested? If the agent has not responded in that time, is it okay to contact him/her or should one assume the agent is not interested?

We get hundreds of submissions. Wait four to six weeks and then a polite email is appreciated.

What are you currently looking for?

I am always looking for talented nonfiction writers who are experts in their fields. We keep a lot of resumes on file and frequently pair writers and experts together on projects.
I am looking for health writers, especially MD/experts on healthy world cultures, cancer nutrition, aging benchmarks experts and basic practical health topics. I also am looking for fashion biography writers and someone to write an introduction to sociology. I like to do business, cooking and pop culture titles, too. We don’t handle fiction, science fiction or children’s books.

When looking through your slush pile, what do you wish you would see more of?

Narrative nonfiction and intelligent history proposals.

Best piece of advice on something we haven’t discussed?

Be professional in all your work and communications. Remember writing and publishing are different.

For more information on the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency, go to:

Lori RussellLori Russell is an award-winning writer who has had the pleasure to work with several great editors in her 17 years as a freelancer. She is a contributing editor to Columbia Gorge Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Ruralite for more than a decade. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and her short fiction and poetry has been published in several journals and anthologies. Lori recently completed her first novel, Light on Windy River.

1 Response to “In the Spotlight: Marilyn Allen, Agent with the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency”

  1. 1 shirley September 14, 2008 at 1:00 am

    Thanks much for this incisive interview. Very helpful to those of us who are new writers learning about the publishing world. The percentages of referrals, contacts, and queries was a particularly useful question and answer.

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